Hey guys! I hope you are all staying safe and (mostly) sane during this crazy, crazy time. I am currently slumped on the couch and drowning my exhaustion in coffee. Lately I’ve been experiencing too many sleepless nights.
The worst kind of sleep (in my opinion) is when you finally fall asleep but then wake up like every couple of minutes in the middle of the night. And it’s not like you’re awake for a long time but like your body just never fully goes to sleep so your consciousness is bouncing between light sleep and awake like a ping pong ball and then you wake up feeling like you’ve been run over by a truck. You know what I mean?
Anyway, if you can’t tell one of those nights was last night. I’ve talked a little bit on my Instagram about why I love mornings, but another reason that I haven’t really touched on is because I hate nights.
I’m sure most people who have struggled with anxiety can tell you that it thrives off of silence, and may diminish in the presence of distraction. During the day I make myself busy. I do work, read, write, spend time with family, talk to my friends, go on walks, you name it. It feels like the busier I am, the easier it is to avoid the anxious thoughts.
Night time is a different story. Night time leaves room for the anxiety to pour in like water through a broken dam and ruthlessly fill the silence. And the hardest part is that, unlike during the day, there is nothing to do to suppress the anxiety except give in to sleep, which of course you can’t do when your brain decides to bring to your attention the deadlines later that week or the comment your friend made to you the other day that MIGHT have meant she was mad at you or that time when you embarrassed yourself in front of a boy three years ago. Quite the vicious cycle, no?
My night time anxiety was at its worst about two years ago near the end of my second semester of school. I would sleep for maybe 5 hours a night at the most after tossing and turning for what felt like forever. And I would never be completely asleep during those measly 5 hours so I woke up feeling wrecked. It got progressively worse until (it was summer by this point, thank goodness) I was unintentionally pulling all-nighters and just taking a nap in the afternoon. I was in a really bad place.
My sleep has come a long way. There are, of course, still nights where I stay up later than I would like because the anxious thoughts get the better of me but it hasn’t gotten to the point where I am literally surviving off of mere fumes in an empty tank in a long time. I thought I would take the time today to share some tips that have helped me to relax more at night and have a better night’s sleep in case anyone else is in need of some suggestions.
*Disclaimer: I am not a qualified health professional so all of the tips shared below are strictly based on my own experience 🙂
- Put the phone down! I know a lot of people talk about the effects of blue light on the brain and how it is counterproductive to sleep. To be honest, I really don’t know the science behind it but I do know that if I am on my phone a lot before bed I can get sucked down a rabbit hole of continuous scrolling which makes me super anxious. I try to get off my phone at least an hour before I go to sleep, but the timing varies.
- Pick up a book! Reading has always helped me relax. Not only does it help me have quiet time but it gives my brain something to do and a focus other than anxiety. Reading is a very engaging activity for your mind so it also tires me out a little bit. Before long I feel my eyelids getting heavy and it is much easier to sleep.
- Turn down the temperature! I ALWAYS sleep better when it’s cold in my room. This isn’t exactly a tip for anxiety, but for overall relaxation before bed. I turn my fan on high and sleep in shorts and a t-shirt, even in the winter. Then I pile a ton of blankets on myself. I don’t know why but I apparently feel the need to form a burrow like an animal in hibernation LOL. But really, cooler temperatures have been proven to help sleep.
- Use a sleep meditation! I use the same sleep meditation every night. I don’t necessarily follow the directions of the meditation completely, but I like having the calming background noise. If you feel like words are too disruptive, Spotify has some good sleep playlists. It is easier for me to not spiral into anxious thinking when there is some sound in my room.
- Make a to-do list! If I start to spiral when I think about everything I have to do the next day I like to write out a to-do list and make myself a schedule for the next day. I write down my tasks in order of when I will get them done. I find that I can relax better if I have a plan.
- Do some low-intensity movement! Exercise at any time during the day can help you feel more sleepy but it can be even more effective in the afternoon. I also like relaxing activities in the evening, such as a walk after dinner and sometimes yoga or stretching before bed.
- Deep breathing! If you struggle with panic attacks at night, I find that breathing deeply while also grounding myself helps me slow my heart rate and start to find relief. I’ll touch something in my bed, like holding on to my pillow, while square breathing (in for 4, hold for 4, out for 4, hold for 4) to remind myself that I am safe in the present moment. Sometimes this helps stop the panic attack from progressing, but other times I have to ride it out.
- Don’t nap in the afternoon! Just… don’t do it. Yeah… this one is hard for me. What can I say, I love to nap! Napping makes it harder to sleep, especially afternoon naps. It can really mess up your sleep pattern by making you not get tired until really late. For the same reason, try not to drink too much caffeine late in the day.
- Have a routine! Going to bed and waking up at the same time every day can help your body regulate your sleep pattern and make it easier for you to fall asleep. Bodies are really very smart and adaptable! Also, the predictability of a bedtime routine can help with anxiety.
- Know when to ask for help! I completely understand that some want to take the natural route when dealing with anxiety/insomnia. However, your body needs sleep to function and help you live your best life. If you can’t find anything that works for you, it may help to consult a medical professional. I know there is a huge stigma surrounding medication, especially in the wellness community, but I have experience with taking medicine at night that is specifically for anxiety to help with sleep. There is nothing wrong with asking for some extra support! Again, I am not a medical professional so consult your doctor if you think you need more assistance.